Every election brings hopes for women of a more transformative change in their lives. Yet, most of the time, they are regarded as soft targets by political parties, which entice them with TVs, rice, stoves and refrigerators.
This time, the Congress has assured loans and affordable healthcare.
The Left has promised equal land rights and the BJP has reiterated its 2009 pledge to bring a uniform civil code to ensure gender equality.
Women’s groups have produced ‘Womanifesto’ that they believe is critical to the freedom, safety and equality of women and girls.
However, none of the political party manifestos mentions withdrawal of the two-child norm, which violates women’s reproductive and political rights.
Introduced to control population by prohibiting persons with more than two children from holding any post in the panchayats and urban local bodies, this exclusionary intertwining of reproductive rights and political participation has affected women.
With the minimum age for contesting polls lowered from 26 to 21 years, many women in the reproductive age group have been negatively impacted in Gujarat, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, which follow this norm.
This has violated women’s reproductive, human and political rights. Women face negative consequences as candidates by being disqualified.
As spouses, they face desertion or forced abortions so that their husband can contest.
The two-child norm affects the political participation of women most in need of empowerment from the Dalit, Adivasi and OBCs as most of them have more than two children. Increasing reservation for women in local bodies from 33% to 50% has been more disempowering in Odisha, where the norm continues since 1994.
The data show availability of basic public services is higher in female sarpanch villages when they have been in the job for at least three years. Yet, Odisha refuses to get rid of it.
Manifestos need to get women thinking about who represents a ‘gender just’ party and influence their voting to make an impact.
Members of the Women’s Coalition for Change, an umbrella of 350 women’s groups, plan to use their networks to defeat any candidate who supports misogyny, discriminates against women or has been involved in gender-based violence.
If coalition partners see no gender-sensitive candidates on the party lists, they will advise their members to opt for NOTA.
In last week’s MDRA/Avaaz poll, 85% said they were more likely to vote for a politician who was committed to policies to stop violence against women and 75% thought the poll promises to tackle problems faced by women were inadequate.
Hopefully, this will translate into a demand for greater accountability around issues that not only matter to women, who constitute 48% of the electorate, but make them matter as well.
Swapna Majumdar is an independent journalist who writes on development and gender The views expressed by the author are personal